Student activists prevail in a climate change trial that’s been pending in Montana for years.

In Montana, the state constitution was revised in 1972 to protect the environment of the state.

“The state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations,” reads Article IX, Part IX. And it goes on to require that “the legislature shall provide adequate remedies for the protection of the environmental life support system from degradation and provide adequate remedies to prevent unreasonable depletion and degradation of natural resources.”

In recent years, the Republican-led Legislature in Montana has passed measures that restrict local government’s efforts to encourage renewable energy options over fossil-fuels. The lawsuit was brought by 16 plaintiffs, ages 5-22, represented by an environmental legal firm and arguing that the legislature is harming them and their futures by failing to uphold its constitutional obligations.

On Monday, a Montana judge agreed with these student activists and their attorneys, ruling that the state agencies were violating the constitutional rights of their people, rights to a clean and healthful environment, by propping up fossil-fuel development at the cost of greener options.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley found the policy the state uses in evaluating requests for fossil fuel permits — which does not allow agencies to look at greenhouse gas emissions — is unconstitutional.

It’s a first in the U.S., a precedent establishing that governments have a duty to protect their citizens from furthering climate change. If it stands, it could be a very important ruling, even though the immediate impacts are quite limited.

The judge earlier rejected the state’s bid to have the case dismissed. The state argued that Montana’s emissions are insignificant on the global scale, therefore the decisions of the Montana legislature do not affect the climate or the future of Montana’s youth. But experts testified that Montana’s emissions, and those of fuels sourced from Montana, are more than those of many other countries.